The Geminid meteor shower will be at its best on the evening of Dec. 13, according to the editors of StarDate magazine.
While most meteor showers can be frustratingly unpredictable, the Geminids are one of the most reliable. Given clear skies, they consistently delight meteor watchers.
This year, skywatchers can expect to see dozens of meteors per hour, rising to more than 100 meteors per hour at the shower's predicted peak at 11 p.m. CST. The tiny sliver of the waning crescent Moon will not overpower any meteors.
High-resolution images and high-definition video animation of the Geminid meteor shower are available online at StarDate's Media Center. There, you can also sign up to receive advanced e-mail notices of future skywatching events.
Geminid meteors appear to fall from near the star Castor, one of the "heads" of the constellation Gemini, the twins. The meteors are not related to Castor. They are debris from an asteroid called Phaethon. The shower recurs each year when Earth passes through this debris strung along Phaethon's orbit around the Sun.
The Geminid shower was the first to be linked to an asteroid. Most meteor showers occur when Earth crosses the orbit of a comet. Though the Geminid shower was discovered in the 1860s, it was in 1983 that astronomers identified Phaethon as the shower's source.
For your best view of the Geminid meteors, get away from city lights. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.
Published bi-monthly by The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory, StarDate magazine provides readers with skywatching tips, sky maps, beautiful astronomical photos, astronomy news and features, and a 32-page Sky Almanac each January.
Established in 1932, the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, hosts multiple telescopes undertaking a wide range of astronomical research under the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. McDonald is home to the consortium-run Hobby-Eberly Telescope, one of the world's largest, which will soon be upgraded to begin the HET Dark Energy Experiment. An internationally known leader in astronomy education and outreach, McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope.